18

1

MAN KILLED, ONE INJURED, IN FALL DOWN HELLHAG HILL

Newlon Greenlaw, nephew of the late Molena Point resident Shamas Greenlaw, was found dead shortly after midnight, his body lying in the rain on Highway One at the base of Hellhag Hill. A California Highway Patrol unit spotted the body as they answered a 911 call to an accident victim higher up the hill, where just below the Moonwatch Trailer Park elderly Pedric Greenlaw lay injured in a fall. The two men may possibly have been victims in a bizarre double accident.

Relatives had no explanation as to why the men were out on the hill during the midnight storm. Newlon and his uncle were staying in their campers at the trailer park with other members of the extended Greenlaw family, gathered here for Shamas Greenlaw’s funeral. Shamas died earlier this month in a drowning accident during a cruise off Seattle. His rosary and funeral will not be scheduled until additional family members arrive.

Pedric Greenlaw is under observation at Molena Point Hospital. His condition, doctors told reporters, is stable. He will be hospitalized for several days.

Pawing open the morning paper and glimpsing the headline, Joe saw that the Gazette had been swift and efficient. Last night’s death and injury filled the front page above the fold, displacing whatever local news the paper must have already set up. He imagined the last-minute bustle, late into the night, as editors worked to change the front page.

If the paper were printed out of town, as some small papers were, they’d never have made it. Probably the ink was still wet when the truck delivered its stacks of Gazettes to the pickup stations.

As for the Gazette’s take that Newlon’s death had been an accident, Joe didn’t believe it for a minute.

He had arrived home in darkness, long before the newspaper hit the porch. Soaking and cold, he had gone directly through the kitchen to the laundry and snuggled down on the lower bunk against old Rube’s stomach, absorbing the doggy warmth.

Rube slept alone or with the cats. Selig slept on the back porch in a huge TV shipping carton that Clyde had lined with old flannel shirts and a blanket-a far cry from the cold wind on Hellhag Hill. There was barely enough room for two, though, when Hestig was there and not with Charlie.

Snuggled against Rube, Joe had dozed until just before seven, when he heard the morning paper hit the front porch. Galloping through the living room and out his cat door, he had dragged the Gazette through the house and onto the breakfast table; ripping off the plastic, rainproof cover, he’d heard Selig pad across the back porch, whining, to paw at the plywood barrier of the dog door. Of course that woke Clyde. Joe heard him stamp across the bedroom, then heard the shower running. He had barely finished reading the article when Clyde schlepped into the kitchen and began to fill the coffeepot in a sleep-drugged morning ritual. A shower alone was not enough to transform Clyde Damen from sleeping zombie to real-live person.

Soon bacon was sizzling in the pan, and the animals were lined up, eating. Clyde had spoken no word. His one glance at Joe was a deep scowl. Before he broke the eggs into the skillet he moved to the table. Standing behind Joe, loudly sipping his coffee, he read the front page. For some time, he said nothing.

Then he breathed a sigh and turned away. Joe glanced up to see a relieved, and puzzling, smile.

So what’s with you? Joe wanted to say; but some errant wisdom kept him silent.

Possibly Clyde, knowing nothing about last night’s excitement on Hellhag Hill, had been prepared for a humorous front-page story at his expense, a comic piece about the arrest of the village’s best-known auto mechanic and his two pups. Not encountering such an expose, he seemed far more pleased with the morning. It was not until Clyde noticed the muddy pawprints leading across the kitchen from the living room that he sat down at the table, giving Joe a long, direct look

“So where were you last night?”

“I was hunting.” Joe considered that his trek up Hellhag Hill and the information he had painstakingly gathered was the most difficult kind of hunt. “Why do you always ask me where I was at night? I don’t ask where you’ve been. I’m not some teenage kid you have to keep track of, afraid I’ll wreck your car or get arrested. You have absolutely no cause to-“

“You were on Hellhag Hill last night.”

“If you don’t turn the bacon, it’s going to be charcoal.”

Clyde rose and flipped the bacon, then picked up the paper, reading the lead article with more care. Joe waited patiently for Clyde’s inevitable and long-winded lecture.

“Do you want to tell me why, Joe, that the minute the paper hit the porch, you were into it?”

Joe looked at him blankly.

“You knew about this accident, that’s why. And the only way you could have known, is if you were up there yourself last night. Certainly you were not hunting rabbits in the rain.”

“Actually, rain makes for good rabbit hunting. If it floods their holes, the rabbits come right on out. Disorients them. I enjoyed, some time before midnight, an unusually fat young rabbit. If you ever-“

“Can it, Joe. You want to tell me how you just happened to be on Hellhag Hill when Pedric Greenlaw fell and Newlon Greenlaw died? I presume Dulcie was with you. Dare I ask if you were there before the cops arrived?”

“How could we have been?” Joe fixed a shocked yellow gaze on Clyde. “You can’t think we had anything to do with the accident? Why in the world would we, two little cats…”

“Give it a rest, Joe. What were you doing on Hellhag Hill in the middle of the night, in the pouring rain? How did you know about the accident?” Clyde was pale with anger. Joe didn’t want to be the cause of a coronary. With the way Clyde ate, his arteries were probably lined with gunk thicker than transmission oil.

“If you must know,” he said softly, “if it’s really any of your concern, Lucinda called Wilma from the hospital. I just happened to be there at Wilma’s house, eating cookies, so of course she took Dulcie and me with her. Lucinda asked her to go out to Hellhag Hill and meet with the police, to find out what had happened.”

“And Wilma took you with her? Why would… Why would she…?”

“She made us promise to stay in her car, out of the way.”

“And of course you did that. Stayed in her car, warm and dry and minding your own business. Never touched a paw outside the car, never went near the body and the police.”

“You really don’t think we would get in the way of the police. The fact that…”

“Please, Joe. It’s too early.”

“Bacon’s burning,” Joe said helpfully.

Clyde leaped to rescue the charred slices. As he tried to scrape the black off-which worked better with toast than with bacon-Joe pawed through the paper, wondering if the Gazette had had a front-page piece on Clyde and the pups, before the accident replaced it. Such a humorous story was exactly the land of local interest that the Gazette loved for page one.

Clawing out Section B, Joe began to smile.

There it was, right on the front, where no one in Molena Point would miss it.

He read the article with quiet satisfaction. Reporter Danny McCoy had been able to get a photograph, too. The shot showed the two rookies impounding the Harley as Clyde tried to coral the pups. The picture was taken at some distance, so it was a bit blurred-but still effective. Joe wanted to roll over laughing. “First-class circus,” he said, addressing Clyde’s back.

Clyde turned to stare at him. “The death of a man and the injury of a second man is a circus?”

“Not what I meant. That was certainly a tragedy. But this-” He stared pointedly at the page with Clyde’s picture. “Tell me, how did they treat you in jail? I expect everyone in town got to enjoy the event- except yours truly. I hate when I miss your really illustrious moments.”

“You want eggs and bacon and toast this morning? Or do you want that cut-rate brand of cat food that you said tastes like secondhand snuff mixed with floor wax?”

Joe subsided. He said nothing more until he had finished his burnt bacon and scrambled eggs. Completing his meal, he sat comfortably on the table, washing his paws and whiskers, cutting only an occasional glance in Clyde’s direction. Clyde had not offered any gourmet embellishments this morning, no smoked kippers or a little dab of Beluga caviar or even a slice of Tilsit, to create a memorable dining experience.

Clyde finished his eggs without speaking. You wouldn’t think that a little friendly ribbing would make him this mad. But maybe he wasn’t feeling well. Joe studied him, looking for some sign of illness.

He saw only a deep, dark fury.

Finished eating, Clyde laid down his fork and gave Joe his full attention. “I really appreciate your alerting Danny McCoy to this choice bit of news.” He looked Joe over coldly. “With your thoughtfulness, you have treated the entire population of Molena Point to a long and sadistic laugh at my expense.”

“I didn’t call Danny McCoy! Hey, I might enjoy the joke, but I wouldn’t have given it to a reporter. Don’t lay this on me, Clyde. Everyone saw you-and heard you, shouting at those rookies on the street. Shouting at the pups. McCoy heard the story the way he gets all of his information, probably two dozen shopkeepers called the Gazette. Why do you always think I have something to do with your self-inflicted misfortunes! That is so tacky. If you-“

“Of course you had something to do with it. Look at the smart-assed grin on your face. You hardly took time to feel sympathy for those poor Greenlaw men. Talk about cold-hearted. You couldn’t wait to paw through the rest of the paper, find McCoy’s story. You were grinning wide enough to make the Cheshire cat look like a death-row inmate.”

“How could you see if I was grinning. You had your back to me. And wouldn’t you smile, if I got arrested accosting a police officer?”

“I was not accosting Officer McFarland. I was rescuing the pups-your pups, if I might remind you- from a cruel incarceration at the dog pound.”

“My pups? I was the one who wanted to take those two to the pound. I wanted to let the pound feed them and find homes for them. But not you. Mr. DoGooder. No, you couldn’t bear the thought. ‘Look at the poor babies, Joe. Look how they’re starving. How could you lock them in cages? Oh, just wook at the oootsy wootsy doggies.’ And now look at them; you’ve already spoiled Selig rotten.”

“Well, at least I… ” Clyde stopped, looked again at the paper. Picked it up, jerking it from under Joe’s paws. “What’s this?”

“What’s what?”

“The Letters-to-the-Editor column. You didn’t read it?”

“How could I read it? You’ve been picking at me all morning. When did I have time to read it?” Leaping to Clyde’s shoulder, he balanced heavily, scanning the three columns of letters.

SHOPLIFTING LOSSES TRIPLE IN RECENT WEEKS

What is Captain Harper doing to prevent the sudden increase in crime in our village? Molena Point relies heavily on the tourist trade, on its reputation for a slow, people-friendly, low-crime environment. We don’t need shoplifters and petty thieves. The sudden outbreak of such crimes seems to have received no response from Police Captain Harper. Local businesses are losing money, our visitors have been approached by confidence artists, and the police are doing nothing to arrest and detain the lawbreakers.

Joe snorted. “Who wrote this? Some guy who doesn’t like Harper. Probably some clown who lives on the wrong side of the law himself. Some cop-hater with an ax to grind.” He dropped from Clyde’s shoulder to the table and ripped his claws down the letters column. “The Gazette has no right to print such trash. If I paid for this paper, I’d cancel the damn subscription.”

And he left the house, stopping to rake the living-room rug, then shouldering out through his cat door.

But, trotting quickly up the sunny street, he forgot the petty letter-writer, and fixed again on the tragedy of last night, on the dark, rainswept hill, on the swinging lights of the police torches.

Who else had been on Hellhag Hill last night, before the cops arrived? Who would want to kill Newlon Greenlaw and hurt Pedric? And Joe Grey wondered, would the little, wild tortoiseshell kit succeed in picking out the attacker?

But even if she did identify the man, still they needed proof. They couldn’t drop a killer in Harper’s lap without some hard facts, without enough solid physical evidence for Harper to take to the grand jury and for a prosecutor to take to court.

And Joe Grey moved on into the village, turning over in his sly feline mind every possible method he could think of for snaring the murderer.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям